No need for new landlord tenant czars

The Yukon government is in the process of a much-needed revamp of the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act and has requested comments from the public.

The Yukon government is in the process of a much-needed revamp of the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act and has requested comments from the public. I’ve taken a look at the legislation and have one major issue with the construction, an issue which stems from my biggest pet peeve: when we, as a territory of 30,000, create two public bodies tasked with doing the exact same thing.

We seem to do it all the time, and it drives me a bit crazy.

In this case, the new act creates the position of director of residential tenancies, an individual who will oversee and resolve disputes between tenants and landlords. It turns out we already have a very effective dispute resolution system in place in the territory overseen by professional triers of evidence.

It is called the territorial court. We have been using it for the past 100 years, and it seems to have worked out just fine so far.

The current system for landlord-tenant dispute resolution works efficiently. The judges of the territorial court are granted the authority to determine whether evictions are lawful and what should be done with security deposits.

The aggrieved party, landlord or tenant, fills out a form at court services and delivers notice to the other party. The matter is given a court date very quickly, usually within a week, and the parties show before a judge who hears the evidence and makes a determination.

It is not a byzantine system; it is very straightforward and very accessible. Lawyers refer to it as Landlord-Tenant Court.

The strength of our current system lies in the individuals overseeing the process. Judges are uniquely equipped to deal with contractual disputes and the interpretation of legislation.

By downloading the dispute resolution process to a director, we create a shadow system of justice overseen by individuals who are not possessed of the same expert oversight as judges. Why have a class of people uniquely equipped to handle disputes and then not use them when disputes arise? Why create a separate system of dispute resolution where the current system works just fine?

The only change to the current system that needs to be undertaken is granting judges the ability to award damages in relation to property destruction and unpaid rent. Currently an individual has to go through the small claims process for those two items, and it would be more efficient to deal with those issue in Landlord-Tenant Court.

Further, the new act grants the director the power to ensure that rental units are maintained to a certain level. Again, we already have an entire building safety branch within Yukon’s Department of Community Services, and bylaw at the City of Whitehorse, dedicated to ensuring buildings and property are safe and up to code.

A builder does not apply to the director of residential tenancies for an occupancy permit, so why would an owner be subject to the review of the director of residential tenancies when it comes to continued safety of the building?

Would we not want the professionals involved with building safety within the Yukon and municipal governments to be tasked with ensuring buildings are safe and up to a certain standard? Again, we are perhaps downloading review powers to an individual who is not as uniquely capable of making determinations as those individuals already inhabiting other government departments.

In short, the government already has all the enforcement tools in place to deal with residential tenancies, so why create an entirely new department to deal with what is essentially just a contract between two people?

With all that being said, and in an effort not to be seen as completely negative all of the time, I will give the government credit for deciding to forego the inclusion of any “security of tenure” provisions in the act. It’s a concept by which the landlord is restricted from evicting a tenant unless the tenant has breached the terms of the rental contract or the landlord evicts pursuant to an exemption. Examples of such exemptions are the renovation of the property or if the landlord has a family member moving in.

The problem lies in enforcing against a landlord – who checks in to make sure the landlord is actually renovating, or that the person moving in is actually related? Such enforcement is costly, as it requires the creation of a shadow rental police department to check in on landlords to ensure compliance, which is a time-consuming and intrusive form of investigation. And the gains are minimal, as the renter is almost always already moved out by the time enforcement discovers the landlord has not renovated.

It is much easier, and more efficient, to simply expect the landlord to live up to the terms of the original rental agreement and have legislation provide an appropriate notice of termination of month-to-month tenancies. The new act calls for the landlord to give 60 days notice prior to termination, a time frame which should be adequate for a renter to find alternative accommodations.

The debate surrounding “security of tenure” is better centered on the statutory time frame required for termination of the tenancy, so as to ensure renters have adequate time to find a new place to live, as the reality is that a rental, almost by definition, can never be forever.

Graham Lang is a Whitehorse lawyer practising real estate and commercial law.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Whitehorse RCMP will provide internet safety training due to an uptick of child luring offences. (iStock photo)
RCMP hosting internet safety webinars for parents and caregivers

The webinars will take place on March 23 and 25

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

Most Read